Labour wants Garda authority to appoint Commissioner

Cabinet expected to settle on mandate for powerful new subcommittee on justice

The lead author of Labour’s proposals on the Garda authority is Wicklow TD Anne Ferris, who is vice-chair of the Oireachtas justice committee. Photograph: The Irish Times

The lead author of Labour’s proposals on the Garda authority is Wicklow TD Anne Ferris, who is vice-chair of the Oireachtas justice committee. Photograph: The Irish Times

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 11:23

Labour is set to press for the Government to hand the power to appoint the Garda Commissioner and other senior officer to the new Garda authority.

In a policy paper endorsed by Labour TDs and Senator, the party says the new authority should have a mandate to hold to account the Commissioner and approve the promotions of senior gardaí.

The paper comes ahead of Cabinet talks on policing reform.

Ministers are expected at their meeting tomorrow to settle on a mandate for a powerful new Cabinet subcommittee on justice, comprising Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Attorney General Máire Whelan, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.

This subcommittee will be tasked with preparing formal plans to transfer oversight of the force to a new independent authority, reducing the powers of the Minister for Justice and the Department of Justice.

The Cabinet settled on this objective a fortnight ago when the decision was made to proceed with a Commission of Inquiry into the Garda bugging affair but the detailed elements of the overhaul will be to subject to negotiation between Fine Gael and Labour.

The lead author of Labour’s proposals is Wicklow TD Anne Ferris, who is vice-chair of the Oireachtas justice committee.

The proposals were reviewed by Senator Ivana Bacik and TD Seán Kenny, both of whom are also on the Oireachtas committee.

Referring to the spate of Garda controversies, the paper says recent events highlight the need “to actively protect the credibility of policing in Ireland and the importance of open and transparent oversight and accountability regimes”.

The paper examines the policing authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland, saying there are aspects of both which could be incorporated into the new Irish oversight body.

“At local level the successful operation for many years of local Joint Policing Committees is an existing example of successful Garda and community interaction that could be enhanced further through a direct linkage to the Garda Authority,” the Labour paper says.

“The current advisory/ oversight role of the Garda Inspectorate could be incorporated within a new Authority. The Garda Ombudsman Commission would necessarily retain its independence from the Garda authority.”

It goes on to list the following functions:

- To agree and allocate budgets to An Garda Síochána and any other bodies under the oversight of the authority;

- To pay salaries and expenses to Garda members and staff;

- To appoint through open competition the Garda Commissioner and certain senior Garda officers;

- To approve promotions of senior gardaí;

- To hold to account the Garda commissioner;

- To prepare a policing plan and agree measurable policing targets with the Garda commissioner;

- To be notified by the Garda commissioner of certain matters of national importance as they may arise;

- To provide a national forum for community policing issues;

- To provide, maintain and manage supporting infrastructure to Garda investigations including information technology systems and scientific systems;

- To publish an Annual Policing Performance Report;

- To liaise as required with the Garda Ombudsman Commission, providing information as necessary;

- To report on request to a committee of the Oireachtas.

The new Garda authority should be drawn from the “widest possible cross-section” of the community, Labour says.

“Establishing a reporting link between the Authority and a new dedicated Oireachtas policing committee will provide scope to open the Authority membership to broad community representation.”

Labour says appointments to the authority should be by open competition. “It is considered that an authority board of 13 including chairperson would be of an effective scale to operate efficiently,” the paper says.

“Consideration should be given to reserving places within the board of the Garda Authority for a member representative of Joint Community Policing, a representative of the Department of Justice and by invitation of the Board a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Authority.”